Poultry farmers: Be on the lookout for the deadly avian flu | News
Since the beginning of 2022, nearly 140 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been identified in the United States in wild bird populations, but the virus can easily spread to domestic poultry.
Amy Barkley, a dairy, livestock and field crop specialist with a regional cooperative extension program at Cornell University, said the viral spread to poultry occurred earlier this month when the virus was discovered in a flock of commercial turkeys in Indiana. Bird flu has been discovered in wild bird populations in New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
“We ask our poultry producers to keep an eye out for sudden high mortality and be prepared to report any suspicious disease from the entire flock,” Barkley said.
What is avian influenza (AI)?Avian influenza is a highly contagious avian virus that has the potential to cause significant financial loss to the US poultry industry. A highly pathogenic (HPAI) strain, H5N1, last hit the United States in 2014-2015 and was considered the nation’s biggest animal health emergency.
More than 200 cases of the disease have been found in commercial flocks, backyard flocks and wild birds. More than 50 million birds were affected and later died or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states.
Where does it come from?
Waterfowl, both wild and domestic, serve as carriers. Since the 2014-2015 outbreak, scientists have been monitoring wild bird populations and waterfowl hunters are sending their harvested birds for testing. Wild waterfowl regularly carry low pathogenic strains of the virus, but can easily mutate into a highly pathogenic strain, as seen this year.
Why should I worry?
Wild birds follow one of four migratory routes. New York State is located in the Atlantic Flyway, which includes states with current HPAI findings. It is expected that as the birds migrate north in the spring, we will continue to see instances of wild birds moving with them. It also means that there is an increased potential for the virus to establish itself in poultry flocks along this route.
How does it spread?
HPAI lives in the respiratory and/or intestinal tract of birds. It can be contracted through contact with infected feces, surfaces or through the air, although airborne transmission from farm to farm is unlikely. It can be carried on infected food, clothing or equipment. Once on the farm, the disease spreads easily from bird to bird, quickly infecting an entire flock.
Which herds are affected?
Flocks of any size, from backyard to commercial, and all species can be affected.
All birds can be affected, but birds other than waterfowl react most strongly to the virus. Poultry infected with HPAI may show one or more of the following symptoms:
• Sudden death without clinical signs.
• Lack of energy and appetite.
• Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or deformed eggs.
• Swelling of the head, comb, eyelid, wattles and hocks.
• Purple discoloration of wattles, comb and legs.
• Runny nose, coughing and sneezing.
• Discoordination and diarrhea
A high level of mortality without any clinical signs is known to be a feature of the virus. In some cases, expect 100% of the herd to die within days. Regardless of how the disease presents, a large portion of the birds in a flock will be affected. Waterfowl can carry the virus but show no symptoms.
What to do if a herd is infected with HPAI?
Report it. If birds are sick or dying, it is important to report it immediately so that we can stop the spread to other flocks. You can call your local veterinarian or herd veterinarian or the state veterinarian serving your county, the State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at (607) 253-3900, or email [email protected]
The US Department of Agriculture can be contacted toll free at (866) 536-7593.
What can I do to handle this?
Because there is no vaccine currently available in the United States for this disease, keeping it out through biosecurity will be the best course of action. The following easy-to-follow biosecurity principles can go a long way in protecting your birds from disease:
• Establish an “all in, all out” herd management policy.
• Protect from exposure to wild birds or to water or soil contaminated by wild birds.
• Closure of bird areas to non-essential personnel or vehicles.
• Provide employees with clean clothing and disinfection facilities and instructions for their use.
• Thoroughly clean and disinfect equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) when entering or leaving the farm.
• No borrowing or lending of equipment or vehicles.
• Prohibit visits to other poultry farms, exhibitions, fairs and sales or exchanges (if visits are to take place, ask workers to change shoes and clothes upon their return).
• Prohibition on bringing poultry from the slaughter lines back to breeding.
(For more questions, contact me at (716) 640-0844 or [email protected] The information in this article is shared by the USDA – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.)